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With the title “Alabama is a Big Front Porch,” made famous by legendary Alabama storyteller Kathryn Tucker Wyndham, I’ll continue to share some personal stories with you this week political story.
As many of you know, I have been friends with our iconic veteran U.S. Senator Richard Shelby for nearly four years. History will reveal that Senator Shelby was the greatest U.S. senator and folks in Alabama, which is to say mouth-watering because we have some great people. We have a great group of senators, including Lister Hill, John Sparkman, John Bankhead and Howell Heflin and Shelby. As chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Shelby brings hundreds of millions of dollars to Alabama. It takes a book or volumes to tell the heroic story of Shelby’s bringing Bacon home to his beloved state. He will serve 36 years in the Senate this year.
Two of my favorite Alabamas and loyal friends are Joe Bonner, former Congressman and current President of the University of South Alabama, and Dora James of Opelika, one of the best ladies in the state. I visit these two friends almost every week. They kindly read the column and gave me feedback.
Jo Bonner embodies the mantra of being a true Southern gentleman. He was admired and loved across the state more than he could have imagined.
Dora James is the epitome of a true Southern lady. She is admired and respected in Lee County. She is a true philanthropist, humble, kind, and truly sweet. About seven years ago, she held signings for me at Auburn and Opelika, and each drew hundreds, not because of me, but because of her.
Speaking of memorable book signing events, the people of Jasper and Walker County hosted a huge event, and Congressman Robert Arderholt was kind enough to come from Washington to introduce me. Over the years, I have had a special affinity and connection with the people of Jasper/Walker County who read my column in the Daily Mountain Eagle. They have a rich political legacy with Bankheads, Carl Elliott, Tom Bevill and more.
To show how old I am and when I wrote this column, it seems like every state senator I know says, “Please don’t write me bad, because my mom reads your column religiously every week, and a few It’s been that way for ten years.”
Speaking of books, I had the opportunity to meet and visit Nelle Harper Lee, the legendary author of To Kill a Mockingbird. The people of Monroeville knew her well from their generation, and they called her “Nell.” Although she bought an apartment in New York in the 1960s when her book was published, Nelle Harper Lee spent her entire life in Monroeville. She lives with Biel’s older sister, Alice. I heard that Alice was the first female attorney in Alabama. She was one of Monroeville’s most famous lawyers and lived to be in her 100s. Neither Alice nor Nell was married.
Nelle Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the five most read and purchased books in history. Monroeville seniors told me it was all a fable. This is just the story of Harper Lee growing up in Monroeville. All characters are real, even Boo Radley.
One day a few years ago, Harper Lee messaged me that she liked and read my weekly column in the Monroe Journal and wanted to meet me. I went to Monroeville and we greeted each other and she gave me a book she signed. I thank her and tell her that many more people buy and read than I do.
She was a seldom-talker and was known for her privacy and seclusion. Essentially, the only thing she said to me was, “You’re taller than you look in the picture.”
I appreciate her time and visits and books. Back in the car, I called my eldest daughter, a lawyer in Birmingham, and said, “I know you’ll pile up my books and throw them away when I die, but there’s one you might want to save.” Next week we’ll be Keep telling more stories.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in more than 60 Alabama newspapers. He served in the state legislature for 16 years. Steve can be contacted at: www.steveflowers.us.